Manhattan Gold & Silver Logo

The History behind Precious Metals and Olympic Medals

We’ve written about precious metals at the Olympic Games before. But, since the London Games fever, we couldn’t help but dig up even more information on those fabulous podium prizes!

For example, we already covered how Olympic gold medals use 6 grams of gold gilding on top of 550 grams of silver. However, that wasn’t always the case. In the 1904 Olympics, gold medals were introduced for the first time. In previous games, second and third place received silver and bronze medals, respectively. However, first place winners were awarded with a trophy and/or prize. Due to the rising cost of gold and increased number of competitions, the solid gold medal was discontinued by the 1912 games.

You might also wonder, “why gold, silver, and bronze?” There are many other rarer and more valuable precious metals that could convey a sense of triumph. So, why have we stuck with gold, silver, and bronze for the Olympics and pretty much every other competitive sport with three champions? The answer relates back to Greek history.

The common misconception is that gold, silver, and bronze medals are awarded in that order because it directly corresponds with the value of each precious metal. However, that’s not exactly the case. What the award sequence really refers to is the “Ages of Man” in Greek mythology, which describe multiple stages of human existence and history.

During the Golden Age, man lived under the god Chronus with a very heavenly lifestyle – plentiful food, long lives, and peaceful times. In the Silver Age, men lived under the god Zeus. Though they still lived long lives, they fought amongst themselves and were subjugated by their gods, rather than invited to walk among them. During the Bronze Age, men were hardened and violent – waging wars with bronze tools.

Those are all the Olympic medal factoids we can come up with for now. Perhaps we’ll discover some more before the 2014 Winter Games get underway!

Skip to content